Hearts fully motivated for difficult trip to Paisley

ST MIRREN knocked Hearts out of the Co-operative Insurance Cup the last time the two teams met, and they could deal a sizeable blow to the Tynecastle club's top-six ambitions today.

Given that defeat by the Paisley side, not to mention their recent win over Celtic, you might think Jim Jefferies would wish for an easier fixture this afternoon, but instead he believes it will help his players approach the game in the right frame of mind. "On their day, they've proved that they can beat anybody, and that's a good thing for us because we know it's not going to be easy there," said the Hearts manager, whose team lie sixth, just two points ahead of St Johnstone with two games to play.

"We're going to have to make sure we go there and compete. In our last away game, at Motherwell, we didn't get started, and if you don't get started you leave yourself in trouble right away and it's very difficult to recover."

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St Mirren lost at Aberdeen last weekend to remain just five points clear of bottom side Falkirk. But they have played well against both halves of the Old Firm recently, having been the better side for much of the Co-operative Cup final against Rangers, so Jefferies full expects a tough encounter. "I've said this for the last couple of years, that I sometimes find it strange how with very limited resources Gus MacPherson has built up a great squad of players there," he continued. "He's improved them every year, but for some reason they keep having to fight relegation down there.

"I watched them in the League Cup final and even Rangers said they should have won the game. They had the opportunity to win the game and it all went against them. To pick these players up, after what they went through for a few days, to go on to beat Celtic, shows they're capable. They played extremely well against us in the semi-final – the best I had seen them play that year, and Gus said that after the game."

The task for Jefferies both today and then next weekend at home to Kilmarnock is to ensure his team show as much commitment as they did in the recent Edinburgh derby match against Hibs.

The injury problems have not gone away, yet the manager has encouraged those players who have come in to seize their opportunity to impress.

Jamie MacDonald, for example, was third-choice goalkeeper behind Janos Balogh and Marian Kello. With those two injured, he is getting the chance to prove he deserves a regular start. "He has to have a chance to stake his claim for the No1 spot. His situation is to go and show he's good enough to compete for the place."

"You want to play against the so-called better teams in the league rather than being in a relegation battle," said MacDonald. "They might be scrappy games. So I think it's important that we get in the top six." Today might well be scrappy, but it will be important for both teams.